Beauty in Peril

Review: “A Beauty Refined” by Tracie Peterson. Bethany House Publishers

Through the courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley, I was graciously offered an advance copy of this book to read and offer a review, which follows.

This is an appealing story in an interesting setting: Helena, Montana in June 1907.  The title is multi-referential. First, it surely refers to the refined beauty Phoebe Von Bergen, lovely daughter of Graf Von Bergen, accompanying her father on a trip to America in search of sapphires for a wealthy buyer. Second, it refers to the beauty of the particularly fine Yogo sapphire found in Montana–a gem rendered more valuable by the art of the master lapidary who cuts and shapes the raw stone, faceting it to eliminate flaws and to allow even more light to shine through. Third, we see the sapphire as an example of mankind, God’s creation that can become even lovelier entrusted to the Master’s hands.

Handsome lapidary Ian Harper and 12-year-old Kenny accompany Phoebe on her journey of discovery. At the start, the story is entertaining and intriguing. Phoebe is appealing; I loved reading descriptions of her elegant gowns; it is enlightening to learn of days in early Montana. We also learn a good bit about sapphires (did you know that they are not all blue?), and about the process of transforming raw stones into fine gems. Discussions of Christian faith appear often, with prayers, Bible references, and reveries. As the story unfolds, we learn that Phoebe’s story is not as ideal as it appears, and she is increasingly imperiled by dangers she did not anticipate.

In many ways, this is quite a worthy book. But for me, it became overlong, and I became increasingly frustrated with the decisions of Phoebe and her companions. While key characters were searching for Christian truths–God’s guidance and protection from difficulties–at some point I began to feel they needed to use a bit more of their Creator-endowed intelligence and good sense. Even after evildoing becomes apparent, Phoebe continues to put herself in harm’s way, trusting to God for protection and deliverance. I guess it makes for a more dramatic story, but I kept wishing Phoebe and her companions would exercise more practical avenues to assist the Almighty. There is an old saying to the effect that “God helps those who help themselves.” Sorry if that comment seems irreverent.

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